Saturday 20 February 2016

Words and their Meaning

The idea for the previous post came about from a question I received recently which suggested that we are approaching a new dimension of life (from the standpoint of those outgrowing the materialism of the modern world anyway), but do not have a developed language for it. That set me to thinking about language in general and how it can distort truth, especially spiritual truth, in ways which I outlined in the earlier article. The terminology used can carry certain inbuilt ideological assumptions which are taken as the basis on which anything else may be understood. But if spirituality has to be seen through the prism of a non-spiritual mindset how can it begin to be understood in the right way?

Here, though, I want to return to the original question and the specific points it raised. The questioner said that the word 'spiritual' is used in such a broad and vague way now that any real meaning it might have is easily lost. She said the same applied to words such as ‘psychic’, ‘occult’, ‘mystic’ and also ‘cosmic’ (as in cosmic consciousness), and asked if I could explain my understanding of the meaning of these words, some of which are used interchangeably and therefore confusingly. To a culture that only understands the world in terms of its outward manifestation these words are either meaningless or else amount to more or less the same thing but, in fact, they can be seen to have specific meanings which becomes clear when one thinks of the world beyond the physical in terms of various levels instead of dividing existence up into material and spiritual with nothing in between. My answer is below.

"You are right to point out that the language one uses in talking about spiritual matters is important because it conjures up ideas, and can either clarify or confuse understanding. I used to be quite loose with my language at one time because I knew what I meant but didn't fully appreciate that others might have a different understanding of the word employed. 'Spiritual' is a case in point. Now I try to be more accurate.

However, as you say, we are really only just approaching the non-material world now and don't have a good vocabulary for it yet. Moreover, as we generally approach it from the outside looking in, we don't understand it well which can lead to numerous difficulties, linguistic and otherwise. 

I use the word spiritual in different ways, depending, I must admit, on the context. Sometimes I use it just to mean non-material or even non-physical because, of course, the subtler worlds are not physical but they are still worlds of form, so material of a sort. This is where psychic comes in. I generally use that word to describe the non-physical but still material worlds, and to ideas and states of mind relating to them, emotional, mental and the like. For instance, the so called psychic powers are clearly not spiritual since they are extensions of the senses and have no true connection to what is beyond 'name and form'. In fact, much that is called spiritual today would be better termed psychic because it still involves the ego as a centre of consciousness and takes place in one or other levels of the world of phenomena.

So the spiritual, to be strictly accurate, is really only that which transcends the personal (as in separate) self and all that pertains to that self. In abstract and moral terms it has to do with concepts such as goodness, truth and beauty considered in their ideal forms, and, in human terms, with consciousness as distinct from the forms it might adopt. Thus it is the world of oneness beyond form in which we all have the innermost part of our being but which is only fully accessible when we have shed our identification with and attachment to the 'sheaths' or bodies that normally obscure it; that is, our differentiated aspect.

Occult is similar to psychic. As you will probably know, it simply means hidden so refers to worlds and powers which are above this physical one, and obscured from normal sensory perception. But the occult is not the spiritual any more than the psychic is, and once you have a rough idea of the nature of the inner worlds you see that many of them are no more spiritual in the sense of pure and holy than this one is. If duality is present, the idea of 'me' as a separate being, then spirituality is not. Occult techniques and practices may be effective on their own level but have nothing to do with true spirituality whether you think of that in terms of sanctity or enlightenment.They operate in and are restricted to the world of creation whereas spirituality is focused on the Creator or however you conceive of what is beyond the created order.

Mystic relates primarily to the attempt to attune oneself to the spiritual plane through practises such as intense prayer and meditation. The mystic tries to become one with God. I believe the word derives from a Greek word meaning closed eyes and lips, and that is a good clue to its basic sense which is the attempt to be still and know God. The mystic seeks to go beyond himself and the world of doing, and find his centre in pure being or love depending on how he conceives his quest. I see mysticism as the stage of going inwards after failing to find fulfilment in outer things. Some would say that, in its turn, it must be superseded by a more balanced approach which seeks to integrate inner and outer, and I would not dispute that.

As for cosmic consciousness, this is just a popular catchphrase as far as I am concerned. It was first used in the 19th century by the Canadian psychiatrist Richard Bucke to describe a brief  experience he had of the universe as a living presence. It was then taken up to refer to any kind of mystical-type experience in which the everyday self seems to be bypassed and the individual enters into a state of oneness. There are, however, various kinds of these experiences. They come about in different ways but one thing they all have in common, apart from the sense of being taken out of oneself, is that they are always temporary. They are not indicative of an advanced spiritual state, though the unwary or spiritually ambitious might take them as such. Personally, I don't use the phrase but, if one takes it literally, I suppose it would refer to the state of consciousness of beings who are not incarnate in this world. After all, the cosmos is pretty big and to reach a condition of real identification with it is rather more advanced than human beings, as they are here and now, can manage. But if it is understood simply to refer to the mystic's sense of oneness with all things caused by a connection to the soul level then I have no objection to it as long as it is understood that this is not some kind of ultimate state, beyond which there is nothing higher, but merely a glimpse into what awaits humanity when it goes beyond  its current dualistic (i.e. subject and object are separate) state of mind."

That's a brief run through of my understanding of various words that are sometimes used interchangeably. I'm sure that as our appreciation of spiritual reality grows and develops so will our language evolve, and become more capable of expressing subtler truths.

Friday 12 February 2016

Language (How It Can Distort Meaning)

I startled someone the other day by stating (admittedly slightly mischievously) that I did not believe in human rights or equality. Naturally by this I was not saying that anyone should be treated badly or unfairly or that some people can lord it over others because they are intrinsically superior. What I meant was that I regard these concepts as deriving from a false premise, namely the materialistic conception of life, and see them as making materialistic assumptions which I do not share. In short, they express and assume a worldview I consider to be incorrect and one, moreover, that has done a good deal of damage in the world.

As far as I am aware, the idea of human rights as something independent from God derives from the French Revolution or, at least, the philosophies that gave birth to that. But this was the first society in history that was predominantly based on a materialistic view of humanity. The thinkers behind the philosophies that inspired it may have been reacting to injustices in the world of the time but their motivating impulse was humanistic rather than spiritual and, if they didn't actively deny the idea of a spiritual basis to existence, they certainly gave it secondary importance. Consequently their ideas were rooted in the primacy of Man as he is in this world rather than the traditional idea that Man is a pilgrim in this world with his true source and being and destiny elsewhere.

Although the idea of the equality of human souls derives from Christianity, it is understood there in the sense that all souls are equal before God and have equal value in His eyes. Thus it is understood spiritually. But the materialistic viewpoint takes truths that are real on the spiritual plane, or in metaphysical terms, and brings them down to the relative world where they are no longer operative or, at least, not operative in the same way. Hence it misinterprets them by seeing them in the wrong context. When the Masters said that men are by no means equal on the earth plane they did not mean that men are intrinsically unequal but that equality as a general principle does not apply here. The relative world is the world of difference and is naturally ordered hierarchically. If equality is enforced here it will inevitably lead to suppression, the loss of higher truths (as everything is levelled off) and eventually disorder.

So, if I do not believe in human rights and equality or, as I would rather put it, do not accept that the argument of how human beings should relate to each other should be framed in those terms because they carry inbuilt assumptions which I think are wrong, what do I believe in? It's very simple. I believe in justice, mercy, love and truth as proceeding from a divine Creator. Framing things in these terms puts one in right relationship with the order of the universe in a way that framing them in a humanistic way, with its belief that Man is as he is here with nothing else to him, no soul, no Creator, no eternal destiny or spiritual purpose, can never do.

But what has all this got to do with the subject of this post, language? Simply this. Language creates meaning so the wrong language or terminology creates the wrong meaning. False terminology contains inbuilt false presuppositions which are taken on board by anyone who uses that terminology. If a spiritual person uses language that derives from a materialistic philosophy (as most is nowadays) then his spiritual outlook will be affected because it will soon be seen in the light of the materialistic yardstick which has become the norm and, as the norm, will require all else to adapt to it. If you use the language of a belief system you will accept its values and end up thinking its thoughts. At the very least, your thoughts will be subordinated to the accepted truths of the system and only be considered true themselves to the degree that they go along with it or, at best, don't conflict with it. Therefore I would say to all those who acknowledge a spiritual reality to life, watch your language! For if you speak from within the framework of a materialistic worldview, using the language of a humanism that does not accept transcendent truth, then you are making that ideology the default one, and will always be on the back foot in any discussion.

Note: I've included this piece in the Kali Yuga section of the blog because one of the characteristics of that age is distortion of meaning which includes presenting secondary realities as though they were primary with the consequence of the foundational truth of that primary reality being lost or obscured.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Question on the Kali Yuga

Q. You’ve mentioned how we are today more separated from spirit and more deeply entrenched in matter than at any time before as the world moves ever further from its originating point in God and progresses into the Kali Yuga.  But is there nothing at all good about the Kali Yuga? It seems strange that God would create a situation that was entirely negative. And on this question of moving, we might say that the world is travelling further from God but isn’t God everywhere so how is that actually possible? Looked at from this way even the Kali Yuga must be part of God.

A. I’ll start with the second part of your question first. Yes, of course, everything is God but there is God as everything and there is God as spirit and matter in which the one is Him in Himself and the other is Him in expression, and the second must be seen in the light of the first to be real. So, in absolute terms we are not travelling at all, and certainly not away from God as that is impossible. But in terms of manifestation which, after all, is the world in which we live, we are travelling away from a connection with unmanifest spiritual life and into increased identification with that in which life clothes itself in order to appear in form. 

You might equally well say that the world is a creation of God. It is not God Himself who remains transcendent to it. In its early days it was still close to its Creator but as time passed that connection faded and it became more itself. God is still there as the spiritual force within creation but harder to perceive.

As for the first part of your question about whether anything good can come out of the Kali Yuga, this is an interesting point.  As you say, traditional Indian thought posits a descent from a Golden Age, when the gods walked with men and the veil between spirit and matter was thin (a kind of Garden of Eden period), to a time when the gods have departed and humanity loses connection to its source as matter becomes ‘thicker’ or just more material. It’s harder to see through it to what’s behind it.  To the point now where the material world is all we recognise. This is called the Kali Yuga. Other traditions have similar beliefs.

Now it may well be that the cycle of manifestation necessarily proceeds in the way it does, going from a pristine original state to increased corruption and decay as it winds down. That may simply be the result of spirit (the real) taking on form (the relatively real). It just is what is. However I think that the Kali Yuga does have a purpose and there is good that can come out of it. At least there is the possibility of good, and maybe even greater good than if it had not occurred. For it is precisely because of the thickening, or coagulation, of the material environment and loss of connection to the soul that human beings can develop two things of great importance to their ongoing evolution. These being a clearly defined sense of self and the power of analytical thinking; that is to say, the mind. It is only as a result of the sense of separation that these two qualities, which we take as defining a human being, can truly develop. Thus only in a time like the Kali Yuga can intellectual knowledge develop the way it has done and the individuality of each person be afforded the value it currently has.

This carries both potential and risk. If the developed mind/self can be subordinated to identification with the whole, with God, if it can forget itself and merge with the Universal Self as the Masters put it, then it can move forward into greater love, greater creativity and more abundant life than would otherwise have been possible. But if it does not do this and remains stuck in itself there is the real possibility that it will become so disconnected from the truth that it will end up a lost soul, leading eventually perhaps, if the situation cannot be redressed, to complete spiritual disintegration.

So you might see the Kali Yuga as a kind of alchemical experiment which provides increased opportunity and increased danger. The closing off of access to spirit as the physical world becomes denser and more opaque allows the incarnate soul the chance to separate out from the group and become a true individual. What it must do then before the process goes too far and individuality begins to set hard is consciously start the ascent back to God (i.e. the process must be self-initiated and self-driven) and finally consciously renounce this individuality for a new and higher realisation of spiritual oneness. In other words, pre-lapsarian Adam can become the risen Christ but only by falling from his state of spiritual innocence and traversing the world of experience first.

Therefore it is in the Kali Yuga that humanity in the mass can develop both a sense of individuality and its intellect, but if the soul does not move on from that self-centred state and voluntarily (through the operation of its God given free will) return these to the Creator then it risks falling into an alienated darkness of spiritual loss and separation. In the Kali Yuga we can rise to a higher state than would have otherwise been possible in more spirit centred times but we can also fall further. We can leave the Mother (a group identification with the material world) and become free individuals, but we must then return to the Father (fully conscious identification with spirit) which we can only do through the sacrifice of this individuality which nevertheless is returned to us, illuminated and transformed. 

Looking at the state of the world now it would appear that the omens are not particularly good for an ascent of humanity in anything like a large scale, and it is certainly true that this cannot take place without widespread repentance and acknowledgement of our erring (from the spiritual point of view) ways. But only God can judge the state of a person's heart, and it may be that the increased disorder and breakdown in the world, obvious to anyone who can see beyond surface appearance, will eventually force just such a reaction.